Vice President Joe Biden said the Syrian regime must be held
accountable for using chemical weapons, then quickly moved into praising the
American Legion's work during the veterans organization's national convention in
"We hold accountable those who violate international norms that are the foundation of global security and American security. And there is no doubt an essential international norm has been violated," Biden told more than 1,000 veterans and legion members. "There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons: the Syrian regime."
Biden's remarks parallel reports that President Barack Obama is considering a limited military strike against the Syrian government as punishment for using chemical weapons last week to kill hundreds, including civilians, in rebel-held suburbs outside Damascus. The regime has blamed the attacks on rebels.
The United Nations, which has inspectors trying to determine the origin of the chemical attacks, reports more than 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict started in March 2011.
The crowd listened silently.
Few legionnaires were surprised Biden opened his speech with a call-to-action on Syria, but opinions were split on the best course of action.
"That was a truth," said John Morris, of Houston. Morris, president of the convention committee, said he supports action against Syria because the use of chemical weapons goes against international rules.
The crowd more readily cheered a call for all Americans to better support veterans' families, laudatory comments on the legion's work to pressure Congress into expanding funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and congratulations for Army Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter, not just because he received the Medal of Honor on Monday, but because he publicly accepted his struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Biden noted that about a third of the 1.7 million American soldiers deployed in the recent conflicts have served multiple tours, some as many as six. The vice president credited modern field medicine with saving more lives than ever before, but said that means more veterans will need a lifetime of care and support.
"We have only one sacred obligation," Biden said. "That is to equip and support those we send to war and to care for them and their families when they return from war."
The comment drew the day's loudest applause, though some legionnaires said the vice president could do more to act on his words.
"I wish he would do more on funding Veterans Affairs," said Charles LeCroy, a delegate from Florida. "The wait is more than 125 days."
One example Biden provided was the federal goal to end the backlog of disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by 2015.
Houston's regional VA office has ranked among the worst nationwide for three years, according to statistics gathered weekly by the Center for Investigative Reporting and previous reports from the Houston Chronicle.
Last year, the Chronicle reported that the number of pending claims had more than doubled since 2009 when the backlog affected 17,537 veterans. One World War II veteran waited seven years for a final decision about his benefits as he aged into his 90s.
Today, more than 32,000 Houston-area veterans are waiting for responses on claims of a disease, injury or illness suffered in the military, according to data collected by the Center for Investigative Reporting Monday. More than 70 percent of them have been waiting longer than 125 days and nearly half of them longer than a year. The average wait time for a Houston veteran filing a first claim is nearly two years.
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